One enters the Sun Belt like one enters a Motel 6; with condescension and disdain. You begrudgingly appreciate the low priced rooms, the limited cable package and the ice machine, but man, what you really want is that Manager’s Reception and buffet breakfast. And you don’t make any secret about it, either. You straight up tell the night manager, “I want them soft sheets they got an Embassy Suites, yo!”
Nobody likes staying at the Motel 6, and nobody is wild about residing in the Sun Belt. But your chagrin is misplaced, my friends. The Sun Belt is where lies the action.
When programs like Western Kentucky, North Texas and Middle Tennessee abandoned the good thing they had in the Sun Belt for lateral lodgings in CUSA, it seemed to signal that the Sun Belt was without any attraction. When the conference replaced those defections with denizens of the FCS, the suspicions were all but confirmed. If the G5 was the minor leagues of FBS, the Sun Belt was the minus league.
Perception isn’t always reality. As it turned out, some of those FCS programs were pretty damn good – and not just at playing football. The brands that were lost were replaced by brands with actual cache behind their names. The Sun Belt has more room for growth than any conference in the FBS. And while our basketball truly sucks, football, baseball and even softball, soccer and track & field are growing stronger.
What’s more, Sun Belt programs are getting vested, buddy. South Alabama went out and grabbed one of the nation’s hottest football hire and set him up in one of the nation’s newest on-campus stadiums. Georgia State is breaking ground on an $85M basketball arena – reportedly the most expensive in the Sun Belt. Appalachian State bumped up its stadium in Boone, finally removing the track around the gridiron. Even ULM seems to want to live again, pulling Terry Bowden out of the ether to lead the Warhawks.
The Sun Belt isn’t going anywhere but up, and yet the instinct among many fans is to get out. Like clockwork, the moment an SBC finds success, the fans begin to lobby for another conference. Why not devote that energy to pouring pride into the conference that has made your success possible?
Listen, I was all for Arkansas State joining the Big 12 a few years back (ha ha, we all got punked!), so it’s not like I’m innocent here. But the irony is that the only way to leave the Sun Belt is to make the Sun Belt a more attractive conference. That means celebrating SBC successes and resisting efforts to tear it down. Sprinkle some respect on the SBC logo.
We have an opportunity to do something special with this beat-down, looked-down on conference. We can rise with a tide of our own making, or we can continue to curry favor with conferences that just aren’t interested.
Personally, I’ll ride with Sun Belt Heat.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rendering of the new South Bama stadium that I shamelessly stole off the internet